Olympic reading

(faster, higher, stronger: Citius Altius Fortius)
Title: Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg

Publisher: Random House. 400 pp

Genre: non fiction, self help, team building

4+ stars

Author: Duhigg is an award winning reporter for the NYTimes (since 2013, previously he worked freelance). He studied history at Yale, MBA from Harvard. He is the author of the best selling and excellent Power of Habit (2010), about the science of habit formation. His books are well researched and informative. He has a clear writing style, if somewhat wordy.

Story line:

Subtitle is secrets of being productive in life and business.

There are 8 chapters including motivation, teams, focus (the best chapter), goals, managing others, decision making, innovation and absorbing data. The appendix has readers guide, with suggestions. Each chapter includes a variety of stories/ examples, e.g. the marines, Disney, Detroit to airlines that reinforce the 8 concepts. I found them too detailed and not necessarily the best examples. It is overall positive thinking with helpful advice, often with suggestions which will appeal to particular individuals. Hence people will get different messages from this book. Suggestions need greater prominence, or brevity within the text. This is still a good reference book for team building and project management.

Bottom line? Take time to smell the roses too. Life isn’t all about being productive. I was probably the wrong audience for this book as I am already too efficient. Most of this seemed obvious, not secret. You need to set goals, focus on them, recognize choices, use discipline and better leadership to strengthen team efforts. And know you are never finished. In short (“cliff notes”):

1) frame decisions as opportunities, not problems

2) construct teams where positive interaction is crucial

3) engage with the vast data stream (recognize the difference between finding an answer, understanding what it means, and then incorporating it)

4) set goals that push you beyond the “to do lists”, and toward something large (stretch goals/ objectives that can spark outsized leaps in productivity)

Read on

If you like Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Lewis, Matthew Syed

Quotes:

These are the things, that separate the merely busy from the genuinely productive.

There are some people who pretend at productivity, whose resumes appear impressive until you realize their greatest talent is self-marketing. 

The need for control is a biological imperative. When people believe they are in control, they tend to work harder and push themselves more. They are, on average, more confident and overcome setbacks faster….One way to prove to ourselves that we are in control is by making decisions. Each choice, no matter how small, reinforces the perception of control and self-efficacy. 

For psychological safety to emerge among a group, teammates don’t have to be friends. They do, however, need to be socially sensitive and ensure everyone feels heard. 

Teams need to believe that their work is important, feel their work is personally meaningful, clear goals and defined roles. Team members need to know they can depend on one another. But most important, teams need psychological safety…..

It’s important to manage how you think, rather than what you think.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.

Summertime chills

It’s a new book….if you haven’t read it! Being a column about previously published books. Perhaps recently reissued, perhaps just discovered, perhaps recommended, perhaps on sale as an ebook, or a library find. Title: Shadow Play Iris Johansen

Publisher: St Martin Press. 337 pp

Genre: mystery, thriller, suspense, fiction, 

4 stars

Author:

Iris Johansen is a New York Times best selling author whose genres include romance, mystery/suspense and crime/thriller. She is writing the Kendra Michels series with her son, the Edgar award winning screenwriter and novelist, Roy Johansen. Her daughter Tamara is her research assistant. Shadow Play is part of the Cara Delaney mini series within the well written Eve Duncan series (first published in 1998). Her next stand alone is No Easy Prey (April 2017); Nightwatch (October 2016 with Roy). 

Story line:

Shadow Play is the first book in a trilogy, within the Eve Duncan series (and book 19 of that). The other two have recently been published, Hide Away and Night and Day, which is why I am reviewing now. Each of the books ends on a cliff hanger, and to me was not complete. Each installment is very good, there is satisfactory character development, action, adventure and more than a few sociopaths. 

Eve Duncan is a world renowned forensic sculptor who has helped many families find closure. Early books focused on the kidnapping and death of her young daughter Bonnie. Her quest for justice with her police detective, now love, provided fascinating, all too real, and compelling reading. They now live in rural Georgia but head to California to solve this crime (and over to Scotland and Russia for the next two books). There are elements of paranormal/supernatural in this series, communicating with the dead, seeing ghosts or understanding animals. It is still a relief to not have graphic sex or violence (although there are plenty of gruesome details) with a mystery, and the detailed relationships between Eve and Quinn as well as Jane, Margaret, Cara, Jenny and Bonnie are lovely. The series looks to continue strongly, with additional developments.

Read on:

If you like Kathy Reichs, Lisa Jackson, Kay Hooper, JD Robb, Karen Robards, Beverly Connor, Heather Graham

Quotes:

This child’s killer might only have been a shadow-figure, but it was malignant and evil and Eve felt as if she could reach out and touch him. 

Out of the blue, out of the darkness, those words had come to her. Weird. Imagination?

…When I work on a skull, it doesn’t usually want to have a conversation.” She shook her head. “Well, that’s not quite true, it did happen to me once before, and that may be why I got a little nervous. I was working on a very nasty, vindictive man who only wanted to bring me into his world and hurt me. 

“And I’ll tell Joe Quinn what you’ve said if it will make you feel better. I’m sure that dossier you have on me stressed Joe’s importance in my life. He’s very good at eliminating threats, real or otherwise.”

How could she tell him that it wasn’t his competence but her own fear that she’d be responsible for something happening to him? Joe was like a force of nature when he was on the hunt.

Margaret nodded. “Okay, here goes. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been able to communicate with animals. I can kind of merge and read them.” Silence. “Read them?” Nalchek repeated. “Read their minds?” “No, not usually. Oh, sometimes. It depends on the species.

His voice was soft, urgent. “I have so much love for you, Eve. I’m full of it, you’re my center. You always have been and always will be. If your Bonnie drifts away from you, I’ll just pour more of that love toward you. I’ll find a way to stop you from hurting. I promise you.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. Available from Rochester Public Library (and as Ebooks).


Shadows…

Thrilling Summer Chills

Title: Pop Goes the Weasel by MJ ArlidgePublisher: Berkley 426 pp (2014/2015/2016)

Genre: mystery, thriller, Helen Grace, psychological thriller, series, serial killer

4.5 stars

Author:

Arlidge (b 1974) has spent 15 year’s writing high drama, prime time crime series for ITV, British television. He recently started the Det Helen Grace series, now into 6 books. Pop goes the Weasel is the 2nd, and I confess I couldn’t wait and read right through five, (Doll’s House, Liar, Liar, Little Boy Blue) eagerly awaiting the publication this autumn of Hide and Seek. His writing is terse, spare in these dark, fast paced, gritty thrillers. The character development improves with each novel and secondary characters play wider varied roles. I find these addictive, in a most unpleasant way. These are not cosy mysteries as realistic events happen that will cause nightmares. They are all psychological thrillers that provide fresh angles to some truly horrible serial killers and their gruesome crimes. Although I think the first book was the most original.

Story line:

In Pop goes the Weasel, as in all, Det Helen Grace is committed to her job, still largely dysfunctional in society, keeps secrets, remains respected but not liked in the Southhampton Force, and can be trusted to never quit. These mysteries must be read in order for the personal history, character development and escalating tension. As it’s a series, I know she will survive, but each book represents a challenge as to what happens next. There are great narrative twists. Read collectively they are a roller coaster! It’s always a race against time to find the killer before there is a next victim. They are very fast paced, short chapters, with vivid descriptions of time and place. I will continue to read them to see Det Grace grapple with her life.

Read on:

Ruth Rendell, PDJames, Peter Robinson, John Connolly, Stuart McBride, Peter May

Watch Luther, Dexter, MI5, Broadchurch, The Tunnel

Quotes:

Opening line The fog crept in from the sea, suffocating the city.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. 

Get Thee To The Library!!

Title: The Invisible Library by Genevieve CogmanPublisher: Roc Penguin

Genre: mystery, time travel, science fiction, steam punk, fantasy, fiction

4 stars

Author:

This is the debut fantasy novel of the English writer Genevieve Cogman. The series continues with Masked City due out September, Burning Page December 2016; the fourth and fifth are already in progress. She has an MSc in statistics with Medical Applications and works for the NHS. It’s obvious her early reading included Tolkien, Conan Doyle and Pratchett. 

Story line:

Irene Winters is a professional spy (junior agent and immortal) for The Library, a shadowy organisation in between worlds which preserves (collects) unique fiction from all realities, alternate worlds. She and her new assistant Kai step into an alternative Victorian London to retrieve a dangerous book/manuscript by Grimm, currently owned by a bibliophile vampire. She is a spunky, loyal, smart heroine, raised in the Library system (both her parents still work there). From her first book retrieval I was captivated and loved her wicked sense of humour as well as her joy in reading. It’s a dangerous job on so many levels.

This is a fast, easy read that is clever, fascinating, exciting and imaginative. There are dirigibles, fae, vampires, dragons, werewolves, and Sherlock (aka the dashing Peregrine Vale, 15th Earl of Leeds). It is rather an eclectic mix of magic, Victorian mundane, steampunk tech and literary humor which makes you easily suspend reality. Initially I thought it was a YA novel with fast pace, simplistic story and technology, but i suspect it is more that it feels like a series. Strong world building, with detailed descriptions, interesting and numerous characters, convoluted twists with a short timeline (taking place in several days), will also make the next two novels easier. It would have also helped if I’d had read the appendix on agent handbook first. The mysterious library, a character in itself, balances the worlds between fae (chaos) and dragons (order) and gives humans a chance. I’m glad the sequels are coming out this year and will definitely pick them up. Especially as Irene is heading back to Victorian London, Kai gets kidnapped by fae, and…! 

Read on:

If you liked Samantha Shannon The Mime Order, Lisa Unger Ink and Bone, Shadow scale, Gail Carriger Parasol Protectorate or Jasper Fforyde’s Thursday Next series

If you are a fan of Dr Who

Cogman highly recommends Ben Aaronovitch Rivers of London 2011 (which I need to find).

Quotes:

but one of the Library’s mottos was borrowed directly from the great military thinker Clausewitz: no strategy ever survived contact with the enemy. Or, in the vernacular, Things Will Go Wrong. Be Prepared.

“Open to the Library,” she said, giving the word Library its full value in the Language, and felt the tattoo scrawled across her back shift and writhe as the link was established.

She just wanted—had always wanted—a good book to read.

It was about finding unique works of fiction and saving them in a place out of time and space.

But when she’d signed up for eternity, she hadn’t quite expected to spend most of it revising vocabulary lists.

He had the sort of beauty that instantly shifted him from a possible romance object to an absolute impossibility.

For the moment, we’ll have to assume he understands that we know all.” “All?” “We are the Library,” Coppelia pointed out.“What we don’t know, we research. Now tell me the rest.”

Librarian in Residence was a post of some responsibility. 

Or possibly possessiveness was a characteristic of draconic affection. They were supposed to be hoarders, after all. Not so different from Librarians.

The known worlds are ranged on a spectrum from order to chaos.

The purpose of the Library is to preserve humanity from either absolute reality or absolute unreality.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, Available from Rochester Public Library (and as Ebooks).

It’s a new book…

…..If you haven’t read it!

Being a column about previously published books. Perhaps recently reissued, perhaps just discovered, perhaps recommended, perhaps on sale as an ebook, or a library find.  I have had this book on my TBR pile for some time, eagerly anticipating it because it is the 9th in the Tony Hill Carol Jordan series. Yet, I have to be in just the right mood to read these: they aren’t for the faint of heart, nor lonely late night readings. And I always read them in one sitting because I absolutely have to know what happens. 

Title: Splinter the Silence by Val McDermid (2015)

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press. 416 pp

Genre: mystery, thriller, fiction, crime, Scottish author, English mysteries, series, serial killers

4+ stars

Author:

Biographical Notes 

“Val McDermid (b 1955) is a No. 1 bestselling author whose (29) novels have been translated into more than thirty languages, and have sold over eleven million copies. She has won many awards internationally, including the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year (Mermaids Singing, the first Hill and Jordan 1995) and the LA Times Book of the Year Award. She was inducted into the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame in 2009 and was the recipient of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger for 2010. In 2011 she received the Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award. She writes full time and divides her time between Cheshire and Edinburgh.” She is part of Tartan Noir, and cofounder of Harrogate Crime Writing festival.

From a personal interview: “You wouldn’t know it but I’m very good…. at knitting. My favourite work of art….is Portrait of a Young Man by Botticelli in the National Gallery. My five year plan….to stay alive, write more books.”

Story line:

This novel centers on mysterious deaths of several women who have been viciously cyber bullied. Dr Tony Hill thinks they are more than suicides, but first he has to rescue ex DCI Jordan, who in retirement has been drinking herself to death. Pressured into building a new department MIT (Major Incident Team) she assembles old colleagues and new technologies. I loved Det Stacey Chenn, IT expert and hacker extraordinaire, a la MI-5 style. Tony remains the socially awkward but brilliant profiler. I completely understand his need to have a storage unit to house his expansive library. (I also liked the literary clues). McDermid cleverly portrays the intricate complexities of relationships, consequences, criminal minds, alcoholism, internet trolls and the everyday all too real stories. She has been called the Queen of the psychological thriller.

I await the next book, with the continuation of their complex friendship/ relationship, the new team, another horrifying killer, the departmental challenges, and a satisfying intricate read.

You could start with this book, and then feel compelled to read the rest. There is enough backstory to understand the characters, but the first 6 books were cracking good reads.

NB the audio book read by Gerard Doyle is also very well done. 

Read on:

Val McDermid’s Lindsay Gordon series(6), Kate Branigan series(6), and next Karen Pirie in December 2016. Or watch The Wire in the Blood (6 seasons, 2002-2008)

If you like Thomas Harris, Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell, Deborah Crombie, Tess Gerritsen, Tana French, Gillian Flynn

Quotes:

She didn’t think there actually was a word for the complicated matrix of feelings that bound her to Tony and him to her. With anyone else, so much intimacy would inevitably have led them to bed. But in spite of the chemistry between them, in spite of the sparks and the intensity, it was as if there was an electrical fence between them. And that was on the good days.

All his working life, he’d been held up as the expert in empathy, the one who knew how to stand inside other people’s skin and report back on what they felt and why they felt it.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover. Available from Rochester Public Library.

Being the 13th


Title: Jane and the Waterloo Map by Stephanie Barron

5 Stars *****

Publisher: Soho Crime 320pp

Genre: regency mystery, historical fiction, Jane Austen, mystery series

Author: Francine Stephanie Barron Mathews (b 1953) is a mystery writer and has written several series. As Francine Mathews, Merry Folger is a police officer in Nantucket while the Caroline Carmichael series are spy thrillers based on Mathews CIA analyst career. Her descriptive writing was influenced by one of her Princeton professors, John McPhee (one of my favourite non fiction writers!). As Stephanie Barron she writes the Jane Austen mysteries, presented as lost diaries edited by Barron. They are extremely well researched, witty, charming and a lovely homage to Jane Austen. I cannot believe it has been 20 years since the first novel. Worse, this novel takes place in November 1815 and Jane died in 1816. Barron writes for the thinking reader. These are gentle, entertaining mysteries with careful staging and intricate characters. You will enjoy the wit, charm and satire of Jane Austen in this beautiful homage. There are many Austen spin offs: Barron is my personal favourite.

Story line:

Being the 13th novel in the series.

The battle of Waterloo has left the British economy in shreds, and Henry Austen is nearly bankrupt. Jane is editing her proofs of Emma while nursing her beloved brother in London. There are wonderful quotes from Emma throughout. Jane hears the two words Waterloo Map from the young, dying Calvary officer Col McFarland and sets out to unmask the poisoner. Jane’s keen observations and wit provide interesting details of social conventions, daily life, and personal reflection that make this a wonderful period piece. Misdirection gives a nice twist at the end.

I still miss Lord Harold Trowbridge, her previous romantic interest and fellow sleuth (5 books ago) but delighted to see her reacquainted with the fascinating artist Raphael West. This is a rather fast paced two weeks in her life. Persuasion is next! 

Read on:

Laurie King’s Mary Russell mysteries as period diaries.

For period mysteries : Nicola Upson, Jacqueline Winspear, Deanna Raybourn, Barbara Cleverly, or Anne Perry.

For intricate historical novels: Diana Gabaldon, Susanna Kearsley.

Quotes:

Opening line: There can be few things more lowering to the female sensibility than to be caught in a shower of rain at exactly the moment one desires to appear to advantage.

Closing line: But as I watched West’s equipage pull away from Hans Place, I felt a blank pit of loneliness just below my heart. And hoped, for all of us, in the promise of spring.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover. Available from Rochester Public Library.

Summertime Reading!

Title: The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths. 4stars****

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin. Quercia books 356 pp

Genre: mystery, english mystery, murder mystery, historical, mystery, series

Author: Elly Griffiths is a British novelist of the Ruth Galloway forensic anthropologist crime series. The Galloway books need to be read in order for character development and overarching story. Her first book was The Crossing Places, with The Woman in Blue the eighth. This book takes place shortly after the last, but there is not a lot of personal development. These novels were inspired by her husband who became an anthropologist and her summer holidays in Norfolk; they now live in Brighton. She read English at King’s College and worked in publishing. Her writing is often poignant, atmospheric and compelling. Griffiths recently wrote a new 1950s crime series (Stephens and Mephisto The Zig Zag Girl and Smoke and Mirrors) that I also recommend. She also writes Italian novels under the name Domenica de Rosa.  

Story Line: The title is of course the Virgin Mary and we’re back with medieval legends in the religious town of Little Walsingham. Here the lady in blue is also the first victim in a puzzling modern day murder. Familiar characters, Nelson and his team, Cathbad, and Ruth cross paths and collaborate to solve the mystery. There are no old bones for Ruth this time; she’s looking into threatening letters an old college mate turned priest is receiving. She also provides much of the historical and religious insight into the town and characters. Ruth is accomplished, intelligent, a dedicated professional and a single mother. But she is still insecure and less self aware/too critical. She’s 45 with a five year old daughter. I usually enjoy catching up with the characters, but Ruth has not moved on from DI Nelson, and she needs to get a life. I’m beginning to think she’s codependent, not independent. But as always, Cathbad has his Druid moments, but he now is also a family man with wife Judy and their son and a ten week old daughter.

The lovely Norfolk landscape still plays a central role in these novels and l love the wildness, beauty, history and nature. I like that there are real snowdrops in February, justly famous and worth a visit. The British weather (unrelenting wind, rain) is so much more enjoyable from my sunny lounge chair. This is a solid, well written entertaining mystery for an enjoyable summer read.

Read On: 

Mysteries in Norfolk: Elly Griffiths The Crossing Places in order

Simon Beckett Dr David Hunter, forensic scientist in Norfolk in The Chemistry of Death

PD James Devices and Desires Adam Dagliesh (series)

American mysteries: Kathy Reichs Tempe Brennan series, an forensic anthropologist

PBS fans of Midsommer murders, Rosemary and Thyme, Inspector Lewis

Quotes:

Opening lines: Cathbad and the cat look at each other. They have been drawing up the battle lines all day and this is their Waterloo.

Well, if it isn’t Admiral Nelson himself!

Ruth is trying to write….rather to her surprise, she acquired a publisher, an editor and something called a ‘two book deal’…surely it wouldn’t hurt to check her emails….

Perhaps it is better to just believe things, as Cathbad does, without attempting to explain them.

Received gratefully as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.